William Wong did not join in the celebrations. His mind was elsewhere, busy grieving the untimely death of his younger brother. While the others celebrated the fourth anniversary of the Nationalist Party of China, the aging man leaned against the back of the Preston Springs Hotel, pulling out another Du Maurier cigarette. A few months ago, he had found his 56-year old brother Harry Wong half-naked, hanging from an ash tree. The officer’s questions still lingered in his head: “You never took him to down to London? Couldn’t you see he was not right up there?”
William had hoped that moving away from the prairies would do it. Away from all those railroad Chinatowns that sprung up and disappeared within a week. Away from all those working men. But things only seemed to have gotten worse in the eight years that they spent running a small laundry in Preston, ON. He blamed it on the public baths. They attracted the wrong type of men. The type of men that eerily reminded William of his younger brother.
Putting out his cigarette, the old Chinese man started off to the cemetery. As he walked uphill along the wooded path, William thought back to the small cots that they shared in the man camps. He remembered when Harry would stumble into bed drunk in the middle of the night. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes crying. William never bothered asking where his brother went into the night, he knew what some men did in those cramped, transient spaces.
William arrived flustered at the shaded grave site, his mind racing. He thought about all the brutal nights, the nights when his brother would come back battered and bruised. For the first time, he questioned whether his brother had committed suicide. He imagined a faceless white man crudely sodomizing Harry and leaving him for dead. Pressing his shaking hand on the roughly carved gravestone, William muttered to himself, “I guess it wouldn’t be the first time that they killed a Chinaman.”
The old man knew it was murder. After all, that is what the men would do in the man camps, so why not here in the man towns. Rape and pillage. Kill and hide. He thought about all the men who worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the prairies and all the Cree girls that they raped and threw into the river. He remembered the lies that followed the washed up bodies. They turned the girls into legendary Indian princesses who would–one after another–plunge to their death because their beloveds had apparently been killed in battle. He remembered when those lies became truth and when each dumping spot–one after another–was re-named Lover’s Leap. “What better to cover up a genocide than big little lies?” William thought to himself.
Walking back down on his swollen feet, the old Chinese man kept thinking about what had happened in those man camps. He thought about the young girls and his soft brother, and about all the worlds between them. Stopping to look over the aggrandized man camp, William slowly started muttering a new chant, a guttural chant that thickened the air: “Sometimes suicides are not suicides after all.”
This commissioned essay was originally written and published as a part of RECENTRE, a discursive program about Chinatown, gentrification and art-making curated by Su-Ying Lee and presented by Trinity Square Video.